Startide Rising by David Brin
1984 Hugo Award Winner (1983 Nebula)
Got it from: Public Library
A few hundred years in the future, humanity has already learned enough about genetic manipulation and space travel that the spaceship Streaker is piloted by dolphins, some humans and a chimpanzee. After discovering thousands of moon-sized derelict spaceships, the crew is chased by several galactic races operating under the belief that the earthlings have learned something about the original sentient species of the galaxy. After a wild chase, Streaker crash lands on a world surfaced primarily by water. With the galaxy’s most devious and violent races battling for the chance to take the prize from the humans, the crew of the must find a way to resurrect Streaker and escape the hordes of murderous Galactics.
Before I even finished this book, I started writing my review. I was having so much fun and wanted to get a head start. This is how it had started when I was just about halfway done:
Perhaps it was just because I was caught completely unawares, but it is more than a little difficult to suspend disbelief when most the characters in Startide Rising are dolphins…well, there’s a chimp too. There is no testing the waters either, you open the book and within the first few pages you’re asked to believe in some pretty wild and crazy stuff.
No, it’s not a little difficult, it’s impossible, but Startide Rising is brilliant because it basically says, yeah this is crazy stuff but who cares, now look at this over here. Instead of worrying too much about really specific details of uplift or daily life living with dolphins on a space-faring vessel, Brin just makes the dolphins and the circumstances of their arrival on the strange water/metal planet so outrageously funny that you can’t help a basically constant stream of chortling throughout the entire book.
A shipwrecked crew of dolphins, humans and one chimp are in danger of being enslaved by crazed egg-laying, war mongering sentients from somewhere in the galaxy, yet the pace and tenor remains light-hearted and goofy.
Seriously though, if you’re not exclaiming “Turtle bites!” by the end of this book, you’ve probably had a humor lobotomy and I don’t know how to help you.
So, yeah… I’ll still stand behind my initial excitement. This is a pretty damn fun book to read, but it wasn’t long after I “penned” this little bit that the book took a turn for the philosophical and became a bit more thoughtful or at least more thought-provoking. And more than that, it seemed that whatever the issue might have been, what strikes you is how human every one of the characters feel. Human, as in even the dolphins feel like people, but also as in some really great and natural dialogue.
This was surprising because when I realized I was going to be reading about dolphins, I was worried a lot of dialogue would feel extra-contrived and stiff and just dumb. I really fought it at first, and I lost. There was a great combination of some silly dolphin mannerisms which didn’t try to hide that they were dolphins, but also the way that Brin used poetry to not only highlight how different they were, but also really put readers in another frame of mind. I was clearly all for it.
Yup. I was pretty crazy about the use poetry, numbers and symbols. The poetry was great and the numbers/symbols/crazy spellings were done only enough to be fun and/or meaningful.
I’ve griped about this in the case of Downbelow station, but also noted that it was something that I normally enjoy. Here’s a brief quote, but one that is characteristic of the way Brin uses the tactic sparingly or only when it adds to the story:
“?” Tsh’t queried confusedly.
Gillian’s expression was thoughtful, as if she was looking at something very far away. “I think I’m starting to understand what’s been going on…”
This is just one quick example, maybe it isn’t enough to really give you the flavor, but between dolphins and a psi-adept human it really makes sense that communication would change pure emotion would seep into their language.
The poetry really brought this book to a whole ‘nother level for me. It was the icing atop the cherry atop the icing on the cake (What! Is that possible? Yes. Yes it is.) Not only was it something that no other Hugo winner had tried, but it gave the book much richer texture than you normally find in a madcap adventure type novel of any genre and particularly of Hugo winning SF. The book was farcical, whimsical and just plain weird but also serious, sad and heartfelt.
When both flotillas simultaneously fired volleys of missiles on him, he tried to evade, of course. It would be unsporting to give up.
But he didn’t have the heart for a major effort. Instead, while he waited, he worked on a poem.
*The saddest of things
To a dolphin—even me—
Is to die alone….*
The Dolphin’s poetry worked so well to convey the richness of themes and variety emotion so well that having completed the book, it doesn’t seem possible to have told the story without it.
Within a couple pages of beginning, I was sure I was going to hate Startide Rising. After just a few chapters, I already loved it. Startide Rising can shift pretty impulsively between philosophical poetry to farce, from wry humor to somber human expression. Whether midshipman youth or an uplifted species all characters take part in a goofy free-for-all fighting for equal treatment, wise cracks and just dealing with how weird the universe can be. I could see some readers a little frustrated by the jumping around, or maybe weirded out by human/dolphin sex, but I loved it. Yes, I just said that, I loved the dolphin sex (I can see the billboards now).
Social/Political Climate 5/5
Scientific Wonders 5/5
The die being cast...one last time
This week I am finishing up The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge (awesome) and now I’m going to cram in some audiobook time to finish The Uplift War by David Brin.
Next week’s books are The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold and A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge.